World Rugby's Team of the Weekend: Welsh Heroes Make the Grade
The summer tours of the big-three nations closed without a win for the European teams.
There was heartbreak in Nelspruit for Wales who lost to a 79th-minute penalty try, while England were wiped out by New Zealand and France took another beating in Australia.
Just over a year from the World Cup, these eight defeats from eight matches make for sobering contemplation for the Northern Hemisphere, whose teams can at least take heart from the fact that things are often a lot closer in the autumn of Europe.
Here is the team of the week.
15. Israel Folau
Folau bagged another two tries and caused mayhem in the French defence with his loping stride and ability to draw defenders to him like moths to a flame.
He may attract a lot of the defensive focus from the better teams, but that will only create holes for the talented runners around him. He is quite an asset.
14. Alex Cuthbert
Cory Jane had an outstanding game for New Zealand, but Cuthbert gets the nod for creating one try and scoring another as Wales built what looked like being a winning position in South Africa.
11. Julian Savea
Savea’s ridiculous try-scoring rate continues. He snared a hat-trick against England in their final test of the series, which AAP’s Daniel Gilhooly noted, via the Sydney Morning Herald, puts him behind only Joe Rokocoko after the same number of tests:
Savea bagged a hat-trick of tries in the 36-13 third Test win over England to maintain an explosive start to his Test career. His 23 tries from 22 Tests is a figure only bettered by another left winger, Joe Rokocoko (27 tries) at the same stage of their All Blacks careers.
13. Tevita Kuridrani
The Brumbies centre continued to show his class as an international player with another big performance that accentuated the sharp attacking threat posed by this Australian back line.
12. Jamie Roberts
Roberts scored a fine try to get Wales off to the perfect start against South Africa and was somewhere near his best as Warren Gatland’s men came as close as they ever have to toppling South Africa in their own back yard.
10. Aaron Cruden
Cruden found that happy groove where everything he tried seemed to come off in New Zealand’s third test win over England. The Chiefs pivot put in a masterclass of attacking play, seeing the space and unleashing his backs to exploit it.
9. Aaron Smith
Mike Phillips had a great game for Wales against South Africa, but Smith takes the shirt this week for his two tries and relentlessly fast tempo with which he kept New Zealand going forward.
8. Toby Faletau
Wales needed their big men to muscle up if they were to restore some pride against South Africa. It will come as little consolation after such a heartbreaking loss that their key men delivered, but you can count Toby Faletau among them, who looked back to his best in Nelspruit.
7. Michael Hooper
Hooper has a happy knack of scoring tries at this level and did so again in Australia’s third test against France. He has pace to burn as an openside flanker and his buccaneering style seems to be rubbing off on the players while he has had the job as captain.
6. Jerome Kaino
Kaino was New Zealand’s best forward in their series. His ball-carrying was a key feature but his defence also made a huge difference to the All Blacks. He may not have the lineout functionality of X-Factor of Kieran Read, but his importance was underlined to the side when Read reclaimed the No. 8 jersey from the Auckland man and Kaino was retained as the blindside flanker.
5. Will Skelton
Skelton had one of the most impressive international debuts of any second row in the modern era. His power was put to great use for his try and his skills were highlighted by the soft pass he delivered to Israel Folau for another score. He has got Australian rugby fans and commentators hugely excited about his potential, as the Sydney Morning Herald’s Rupert Guinness illustrated:
If there is one name the French will be muttering as they fly back home following their 39-13 loss to the Wallabies at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, besides that of Israel Folau, it will be Will Skelton. Based on the towering second-rower's Test debut, the value of his try against France was greater than its five points – or even seven after No.10 Bernard Foley kicked the conversion to put the home side up to a handy 10-0 lead after only nine minutes. It gave the 140-kilogram, 203-centimetre Waratahs giant confidence from which he could draw on for the rest of his time under the sun, on a picture perfect winter's afternoon.
4. Brodie Retallick
Retallick was again at the heart of the New Zealand ball-carrying effort, and he also proved a menace at the breakdown in slowing England’s ball down. His lineout work was first class and he showed he has developed into a world-class second row in every aspect.
3. Owen Franks
Got the better of Joe Marler in the end, and he was more effective around the field than his opposite number. Grew into the series, like the rest of this All Black team.
2. Ken Owens
Owens deserved his try for an effort that matched his more vaunted counterpart, Bismarck du Plessis. The Welshman carried the fight to the bruising South African pack all afternoon.
1. Tony Woodcock
Woodcock showed his ability to work out a problem and get on top of it. In the first test, Davey Wilson had given him a hell of a time in the scrum, but by the end of the series the older man had come out on top.